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The giant arena in Mandela's back yard that will house the biggest funeral in history: Preparations begin as world leaders head to South Africa for historic event

December 9, 2013 6:43 PM
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The giant arena in Mandela's back yard that will house the biggest funeral in history: Preparations begin as world leaders head to South Africa for historic event

A giant arena is being built in view of Nelson Mandela's home to stage the biggest funeral in South Africa's history for him.

Final preparations are being made before more than 70 world leaders fly in this week to attend a series of events to mark the extraordinary life of one of humanity's great peacemakers.

They include Cuban leader Raul Castro and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe who could rub shoulders with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Charles in an unprecedented gathering.

Iran's Hassan Rouhani will also be among the heads of state flying in to commemorate Mr Mandela, as will U.S. President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

However, the Dalai Lama will not attend memorial services for his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate in South Africa, where he has twice been unable to obtain a visa.

A spokesman did not say why the Buddhist spiritual leader is missing the memorial service in Johannesburg and funeral in Mandela's hometown.

South Africa blocked the Dalai Lama from attending a Nobel laureates' peace conference in 2009, and stalled on a 2011 visa until the Tibetan leader withdrew the application.

Today, South Africa's parliament begun a special session honouring the nation's former leader.

The session began in Cape Town, with an announcement that members of Mandela's family were sitting in the gallery.

Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa's deputy president, began the proceedings with a speech. He described how Mandela's influence in South Africa and around the globe caused a 'sweeping feeling of sorrow' worldwide following his death.

Tomorrow's event is set to be one of the biggest meetings of global dignitaries in recent history at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium, South Africa's foreign ministry said today.

The 95,000-seat stadium in Soweto, the township that was at the heart of the anti-apartheid struggle, will host the main memorial ceremony for Mandela, who died on Thursday aged 95.

It was the site of Mandela's last public appearance, when he waved to fans from the back of a golf cart at the final of the 2010 soccer World Cup.

'The whole world is coming to South Africa,' foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela.

However, ministers have had to play down fears that events to mark Mr Mandela’s death could descend into chaos, as it was revealed some key details have yet to be arranged.

A police spokesman in South Africa said today that 'thousands' of officers will be on hand to keep order.

Among the mourners heading to South Africa this week will be figures from the worlds of music, business and fashion.

Tycoon Sir Richard Branson, supermodel Naomi Campbell and musicians Bono, Annie Lennox and Peter Gabriel are expected at the memorial service on Tuesday.

Sir Richard and singer Peter Gabriel devised 'The Elders' forum of statesmen and activists set up by Mr Mandela.

U2 singer and activist Bono, 53, said the anti-apartheid icon had inspired him to campaign against Aids and world poverty.

Miss Campbell, 43, who Mr Mandela described as his 'honorary granddaughter', has helped raise money for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and his former political party the African National Congress.

Grammy-award winning artist Annie Lennox, 58, has a long association with Mr Mandela after performing at his 70th birthday concert in 1988.

Three previous prime ministers - Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - are to join current PM David Cameron at the official memorial ceremony.

Also attending the national memorial service in Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium will be Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, said Downing Street.

It is thought to be the first time for many years that all of the UK’s surviving prime ministers have travelled to an event abroad, and reflects the deep respect in which Mr Mandela is held within British politics.

Among those expected to be there are U.S. President Barack Obama and United Nations secretary -general Ban Ki-moon.

Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter will also be there.

At the funeral, political guests will include Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout – who is representing his country in place of its prime minister Jiri Rusnok.

Today, South Africa's government released the list of speakers for the Tuesday memorial, expected to last four hours at stadium at Soweto Township near Johannesburg.

- Brazil President Dilma Rousseff; - Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao; - Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba; - Indian President Pranab Mukherjee; and - Cuban President Raul Castro.

South African President Jacob Zuma will give the keynote address. Mr Mandela's family and friends also will speak at the ceremony, which will include a sermon.

They will culminate in Mr Mandela’s funeral, which will be held in his home village of Qunu on Sunday. Prince Charles will attend, to represent the Queen.

Yesterday officials hastily announced three 'overflow' stadia would also be used, amid fears the Soweto stadium would not be able to cope with the number of mourners expected to pay their respects.

Although officials have declared that all roads around the stadium will be closed to traffic, they have not explained how mourners will be able to get there.

Similarly, a government minister, Collins Chabane, struggled to explain how he would manage the crowds expected to view Mr Mandela’s body.

Mr Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days at Pretoria’s government buildings from Wednesday.

The first day will be set aside for ‘VVIP’ visitors. From Thursday, members of the public will be able to file past the body, but will be banned from taking photographs.

However the most serious concerns relate to the funeral itself, which will be held in Qunu, the remote village where Mr Mandela lived as a child.

It is accessible by only one minor road and the nearest airport, 20 miles away, is unable to accommodate more than a few aircraft at a time. Locals expect the entire area to be gridlocked as dignitaries, ordinary mourners and film crews descend for the funeral.

It is not yet clear who will attend the private funeral. It is understood that world leaders, particularly those with large entourages and special security needs, have been encouraged to attend the memorial in Johannesburg instead.

The service is expected to last for four hours, and President Obama is likely to deliver an address.

There was already controversy yesterday as Mr Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie, stole the limelight at a church service held for Mr Mandela in Johannesburg.

The 77-year-old attended the service instead of Mr Mandela's third wife, Graca Machel, and sat in prime position next to president Jacob Zuma. She expressed little emotion during the service, but showed a flash of anger when the pastor mistakenly called her Graca.

Mrs Mandela was mourning her husband’s death in private at the nearby family home.

* Tonight’s episode of EastEnders will include a scene filmed to mark Mr Mandela’s death.

It will involve Carol Jackson, played by Lindsey Coulson, and Denise Fox, played by Diane Parish, discussing Mr Mandela and their memories of his release from prison in 1990.


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